Where We Live: Lake Forest Park, Plus

I take a swipe at LFP's future

I’ve talked a lot about neighborhood futures in parts of Shoreline, but a reader challenged me to do the same in Lake Forest Park. Your wish is my command; let the dreaming begin.

This is a challenge to begin with because of the circumstances of LFP’s birth. It was, after all, intended to be a permanent enclave of rurality amid the bustling, growing urbanity around it. They’ve done an excellent job fulfilling its founding statements and claims, and you can see the superb tree canopy directly on aerial photography, but an incorporated city has an increased responsibility to take a large chunk of any regional growth so unincorporated areas won’t, and while small- ¼ the size of Shoreline- LFP can’t dodge its duty. Status quo ante- adherence to its antiurban founding- is no longer a defensible position in any pure sense. But then, that’s no real problem, since it hasn’t been “pure” since they cut down the original forest!

The City has made their relationship with trees pretty clear in their Municipal Code, Chapter 16.10, Tree Protection and Replacement, and I find it admirable.

16.14.010 Findings.

The city council makes the following findings:

A. The trees of Lake Forest Park, a reminder of the city’s namesake, offer historic, aesthetic, ecological, economic, health, safety and welfare values to the community. These values include:

1. Enhancing the economic value of properties;

2. Reducing soil erosion and runoff from precipitation;

3. Stabilizing and enriching the soil;

4. Improving water quality;

5. Improving air quality;

6. Moderating the effects of wind and temperature;

7. Buffering unwanted sound;

8. Providing and protecting varied and rich habitats for wildlife;

9. Providing visual relief and screening buffers; and

10. Providing a valuable asset to the community as a whole.

B. Removal of trees from urban areas such as Lake Forest Park has resulted in the loss to the public of these beneficial functions of trees, and it has resulted in an environmental degradation that may threaten the public health, safety, and welfare. (Ord. 800 § 1, 2001)

They recognize the dangers of water also, as seen in LFPMC Chapter 16.20, Flood Damage Prevention,

16.20.020 Findings of fact.

A. The flood hazard areas of the city are subject to periodic inundation which results in loss of life and property, health and safety hazards, disruption of commerce and governmental services, extraordinary public expenditures for flood protection and relief, and impairment of the tax base, all of which adversely affect the public health, safety and general welfare.

B. These flood losses are caused by the cumulative effect of obstructions in areas of special flood hazard which increase flood heights and velocities, and when inadequately anchored, damage uses in other areas. Uses that are adequately floodproofed, elevated or otherwise protected from flood damage also contribute to the flood loss. (Ord. 937 § 1, 2005; Ord. 419 § 1.2, 1989)

16.20.040 Methods of reducing flood losses.

In order to accomplish its purposes, this chapter includes methods and provisions for:

A. Restricting or prohibiting uses which are dangerous to health, safety and property due to water or erosion hazards, or which result in damaging increases in erosion or in flood heights or velocities;

B. Requiring that uses vulnerable to floods, including facilities which serve such uses, be protected against flood damage at the time of initial construction;

C. Controlling the alteration of natural floodplains, stream channels, and natural protective barriers, which help accommodate or channel floodwaters;

D. Controlling filling, grading, dredging and other development which may increase flood damage; and

E. Preventing or regulating the construction of flood barriers which will unnaturally divert floodwaters, or which may increase flood hazards in other areas. (Ord. 937 § 1, 2005; Ord. 419 § 1.4, 1989)

Flooding has been a problem here for a long time, but some solutions are much better than others. The city has been working for years to address this, as reported in Patch: “On Monday, Oct. 1, 2012, the City was awarded a $3 million grant from FEMA to complete design and construction of the Lyon Creek Bypass Project. The 60-inch bypass will provide flood protection for the Sheridan Beach and Town Center area of the City by capturing high flows upstream of the floodplain and diverting them to a point downstream near Lake Washington.

This technological solution, though, is expensive up front and doesn’t approach the root causes: development. Ideally, all the houses at the mouths of the creeks will be moved out of the way and roads, sidewalks and driveways all around the creeks converted to pervious pavement. Each stream in the city should be daylighted. Their whole flow should be on the surface in as close as possible to their original, natural beds. The area around them- their watersheds- should be as far as possible permeable. That is, rain should be able to percolate slowly through the vegetation and soil and the new pavement and enter the creeks gradually and quietly, not run off a hard surface all at once, eroding all the stream banks, undermining trees and buildings, scouring out the gravel salmonids need for spawning, and dumping sediment into the creeks and lake. The point is to fix the problem with the creeks instead of imposing a fix on them. You have until October 2013 to weigh in on the process.

An excellent book on the subject is Lake Forest Park Stewardship Foundation’s  Salmon Guide, which includes history, biology, and maps to LFP’s waterways.

I have some ideas as to how Lake Forest Park can grow in population and density while preserving its tree-house ethic and esthetic and they involve seemingly contradictory actions: deliberate, relatively intense urban growth and systematic wild area expansion and restoration.

Almost all LFP businesses are at the southern end of Bothell Way- the Sheridan Beach/Lake City end of town- or at Town Center. All the “Lk Forest Park” business at the north end of Ballinger Way is actually in Shoreline and that farther east on Bothell Way are in Kenmore.

Town Center at Lake Forest Park (new name since it was sold to Madison Marquette) is the commercial center of LFP, and arguably the social center as well.   It  sits smack in the middle of what was a huge marsh at the mouths of Lyon and McAleer Creeks. Even if we wanted to return it all to that state, though, we couldn’t. Since the town was platted the Lake Washington Ship Canal was built and the lake was lowered 9-10 feet to Lake Union’s level, so the shore is a hundred or more feet from where it started.

Still, the opportunity exists to substantially improve what’s there and rebuild TCLFP as a much more complete, vibrant, lively place which still embraces the forest as it is embraced by it. If this is going to work LFP needs to accommodate much higher density. Obviously that doesn’t mean putting 50-story skyscrapers on each corner, but setting certain areas where bigger buildings would fit will be very good indeed. As a matter of fact, LFP has the perfect place to rezone: Town Center. (Man, having a Town Center in Shoreline and another in LFP can be awkward.) LFP code says the maximum building height is 35’. So be it for most of the town, but in the vicinity of TCLFP that should increase to as much as 120’! If that sounds outlandish and completely out of scale, consider this: TC is exactly where all those additional people should be- the best economics and access in town- and it’s at the lowest point in town, surrounded by hills and trees. In other words, the tops of those condo or apartment structures wouldn’t be visible over all those Douglas Firs.

I’m not talking about a bunch of faceless glass towers, but about a set of asymmetrical, varied structures- I suggest dark, woodsy colors and lots of plantings- around the western and northern edges of the TC, tallest next to the mall and receding, garden terrace by garden terrace into the woods, tailing off into smaller buildings and townhomes, then dense single-family homes, and finally to the ambient density. The houses moved away from the streams could be replanted as the base of this kind of housing, saving its resources and sense of local familiarity and fit in the process. Lower buildings would also be placed on the southeast area- Bothell Way & Ballinger Way.

What the Town Center also needs is Lyon Creek. It should be channeled right through the middle of it, or wherever the streams scientists say it should go. Open the stream up on the surface, plant native plants all around it, let it settle naturally into its new banks, give it some room, bridge it many times to keep all connections for the mall, and build additions on the mall to make up for the space devoted to stream restoration. Town Center can benefit massively from this by rearranging its spaces to face the creek, laying promenade walks… Think a small-scale version of San Antonio’s Riverwalk and you’ve got the idea.

Connect NE 175th St/Ne 178th St and we will have much more effective auto cross-connection and will give Metro the opportunity to institute our first effective crosstown route from Richmond Beach through Town Center Shoreline through the upcoming Link Light Rail stop around 185th through North City to LFP Town Center. That will lighten the load on 522 and support the greater density while helping North City, too.

This comports quite well with what the city sees in its “100 Year Vision” report when they focus on “Green Infrastructure” The people of LFP apparently ‘get it’, by what I’ve seen in the Vision Report. What I’m arguing for is a redefinition of what Lake Forest Park is: no longer a retreat from urbanity, but an assertion that city and forest can truly, beneficially integrate and synergize.


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